The Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747 jet airliner which was designed for ultra-long-range flights. The SP stands for "Special Performance". Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body, four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger tailplane, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.[1]

Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the 747SP was designed to meet a 1973 joint request from Pan American World Airways and Iran Air, who were looking for a high-capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover Pan Am's New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air's planned Tehran–New York route. The aircraft also was intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with existing trijet airliners.

The 747SP first entered service with Pan Am in 1976. The aircraft was later acquired by VIP and government customers. While in service, the 747SP set several aeronautical performance records, but sales did not meet the expected 200 units, and production ultimately totaled 45 aircraft.[2]


The idea for the 747SP came from a request by Pan Am for a 747 variant capable of carrying a full payload non-stop on its longest route between New York and Tokyo.[3] Joined with Pan Am's request was Iran Air; their joint interest was for a high capacity airliner capable of covering Pan Am's New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air's planned Tehran–New York route which,[4] when launched at the time, was the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world. The aircraft was launched with Pan Am's first order in 1973, and the first example delivered in 1976.[5]


A shorter derivative of the 747-100, the SP was developed to target two market requirements.[5] The first was a need to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011 while maintaining commonality with the 747,[5] which in its standard form was too large for many routes. Boeing lacked a mid-sized wide-body to compete in this segment. The second market requirement was an aircraft suitable for the ultra-long-range routes emerging in the mid-1970s following the joint request. These routes needed not only longer range, but also higher cruising speeds. Boeing could not afford to develop an all-new design, instead opting to shorten the 747 and optimize it for speed and range, at the expense of capacity.[1] Production of the 747SP ran from 1976 to 1983. However a VIP order[5] for the Royal Flight of Abu Dhabi led Boeing to produce one last SP in 1987.

A special 747SP is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) astronomical observatory,[5] which has its airframe modified to carry a 2.5-meter-diameter reflecting telescope to high altitude, above 99.9% of the light-absorbing water vapor in the atmosphere. The telescope and its detectors cover a wide wavelength range from the near infrared to the sub-milimeter region; no window material is transparent over this whole range, so the observations are made through a 13 ft (3.96 m) square hole in the port upper quarter of the rear fuselage, aft of a new pressure bulkhead. A sliding door covers the aperture when the telescope is not in use.[6] Astronomers take data and control the instrument from within the normally pressurised cabin. Originally delivered to Pan Am and titled "Clipper Lindbergh", NASA has the name displayed in Pan Am script on the plane.


Apart from having a significantly shorter fuselage and one fewer cabin door per side, the 747SP differs from other 747 variants in having simplified flaps and a taller vertical tail[5] to counteract the decrease in yaw moment-arm from the shortened fuselage. The 747SP uses single-piece flaps on the trailing edges, rather than the smaller triple-slotted flaps of standard 747s. The SP was also the first— and until the introduction of the Boeing 777-200LR the only—Boeing wide-body with a wingspan greater than the length of the fuselage.

File:Iran Air Boeing 747SP Wedelstaedt.jpg

The SP could accommodate 230 passengers in a 3-class cabin or 331 in a (303 economy, 28 business) 2-class cabin, and a maximum of 440 passengers in one class. Originally designated 747SB for "short body", it later was nicknamed "Sutter's balloon" by employees after 747 chief engineer Joe Sutter.[7] Boeing later changed the production designation to 747SP for "special performance", reflecting the aircraft's longer range and faster cruise speed. Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747SP, taking the first delivery, Clipper Freedom, on March 5, 1976,[8] followed by Iran Air.

The 747SP was the longest-range airliner available until the 747-400 entered service in 1989. Despite its technical achievements, the SP never sold as well as Boeing hoped.[5] Increased fuel prices in the mid 1970s to early 1980s, the SP's heavy wings, expensive cost,[5] reduced capacity, and the increased ranges of forthcoming airliners[5] were some of the many factors that contributed to its low sales. Only 45 were built and of those remaining, most are used by operators in the Middle East. However, some of the engineering work on the 747SP was reused with the development of the 747-300 and 747-400. In the 747SP, the upper deck begins over the section of fuselage that contains the wingbox, not ahead of the wingbox as is the case with the 747-100 and 747-200. This same design was used in the 747-300 and 747-400 resulting in a stretched upper deck.


File:Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747SP Simon.jpg

Forty-five 747SP aircraft were built between 1974 and 1989. As of December 2008, 17 are still flying, 16 have been scrapped, and 12 are in storage, awaiting salvage or on display in museums.[9]


747-SP 451 46952414

Active serviceEdit

The following corporate or private organizations operated or maintained the remaining airworthy 747SP airframes through 2011.[9][10]

File:Fry's Electronics Boeing 747SP Simon.jpg
  • Ernest Angley Ministries (1)[11]
  • Fry's Electronics, sometimes with specific livery for tours of Ballet San Jose (1)[12]
  • Iran Air (in passenger operation) (4)[10]
  • Las Vegas Sands (2)[13]
  • NASA SOFIA Astronomical Observatory (1)[14]
  • Pratt & Whitney Flight Test (2)[15][16]
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines (VIP/ Government use) (3)[10]
  • Yemenia Airways (VIP/ Government use) (1)[10]

Governments that acquired the 747SP for executive transport use included:[17]

  • VIP Government of Bahrain (1)
  • VIP Government of Oman (1)
  • VIP Government of Qatar (1)

Former operatorsEdit

File:SOFIA Boeing 747SP 1998AC0014.jpg
  • Aerolineas Argentinas operated a single aircraft.[18]
  • Air China got the 747SP under the former name CAAC and used the type for Pacific routes,[19] including to open its first route to USA: Beijing – Seattle. Later, the type was also used for service to Vancouver and New York from Beijing, the aircraft continued flying with rebranded Air China throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • Air Gulf Falcon was a Sharjah based charter airline which acquired a single ex-Mandarin Airlines aircraft amongst other 747 versions in 1999, the company shut down in early 2000s, its not known if the 747SP was operated anywhere during the period, it was sold off to a now defunct cargo airline Kinshasa Airways, and painted with the airlines logo and titles, it remains stored in Sharjah.[20]
  • Air Mauritius using former South African Airways aircraft for nonstop long-haul routes such as Mauritius to Hong Kong.[21]
  • Air Namibia operated two fromer South African Airways aircraft during the 1990s one each in their previous and current liveries.[22]
  • Alliance Air a joint venture airline set up by South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda operated a single South African Airways aircraft during the 1990s.[23]
  • American Airlines purchased two used airframes from TWA (N601AA and N602AA) in the late 1980s to begin their Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo service.[24] These aircraft were later moved to serve New York to London and New York to Brussels routes while AA awaited the deliveries of additional MD-11s. One of the aircraft was sold to Kazakhstan Airlines and later scrapped, while the other was sold to the government of the United Arab Emirates and then to evangelist Ernest Angley.[24]
  • Braniff took delivery of 3 747SPs for their ultra-long haul routes in the Pacific. They were fitted with 300 seats in a luxurious cabin and an all-orange exterior.[25] Of the three planes, as of August 2006, one has been scrapped and one is in VIP service with Yemen government. The third was formerly in VIP service with the Oman government, but was sold to the owners of Fry's Electronics, sometimes used to carry tours of Ballet San Jose.[26]
  • China Airlines used the type on its non-stop routes from Taipei to San Francisco, Los Angeles[27] and to Australia]] via Melbourne and Sydney
  • Corsairfly using former South African Airways aircraft.[19]
  • Iraqi Airways operated a single aircraft for the Government from 1982 uptil 1990.[28]
  • Kazakhstan Airlines operated a single aircraft commercially and for the Government.[29]
  • Kinshasa Airways a defunct cargo airline, acquired a single aircraft from Sharjah based charter outfit Air Gulf Falcon in early 2000s, the aircraft remains stored in Sharjah and has never flown despite being painted in the airlines livery and undergone occasional engine runs.[30]
  • Korean Air operated the type[4] on routes from Seoul to various destinations in USA and Europe.
  • LAM Mozambique Airlines operated a single South African Airways Boeing 747SP-44 (ZS-SPF) for a while.[31]
File:Luxavia 747SP Wallner.jpg
  • Luxair in cooperation with Trek Airways,[32] on the Luxembourg-Nairobi-Johannesburg route.
  • Mandarin Airlines operated the 747SP aircraft on routes from Taipei to Australia in the mid-1990s.[33]
  • Pan Am the launch customer, took delivery of ten 747SP-21 aircraft between 1976 and 1979, operating them on trans-Pacific routes to Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore) and Oceania (Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland) as well as nonstop New York-Bahrain service, the aircraft were later sold off to United Airlines.[34]
  • South African Airways operated six 747SP-44 aircraft on flights from Johannesburg to London[4] and other European destinations during the apartheid years, when that airline's aircraft were not allowed to fly over African countries and had to fly around the Bulge of Africa. The extra range allowed the aircraft to cover the additional distance nonstop. On 1 April 1977, South African Airways inaugurated the first direct 747SP flight between London[4] and Cape Town (flight SA 867), the return northbound flight SA 866 only stopping over at Ilha do Sal. This route became a weekly service on Fridays and Saturdays. The sole remaining South African Airways 747SP - the "Maluti" - was decommissioned on 30 September 2006 with a final flight to Rand Airport where it will remain on show as a static display/museum aircraft. (This final transport flight was the aircraft's first flight in three years.)[35]
  • TWA operated three 747SP-31 aircraft[36] from 1979 to 1986. These aircraft were intended for long distance routes to the Middle East[36] which never materialized. Instead, they flew on regular red-eye flights between Los Angeles and Boston, as well as international flights to Paris. Two of these were purchased by American Airlines (see below); the third was purchased by the government of the United Arab Emirates and later by Las Vegas Sands.[37]
File:QANTAS 747SP touches down in Wellington.jpg
  • Qantas operated two 747SP-38 aircraft from 1980 to 2004. These aircraft were used for flights between Australia and Wellington, due to Wellington's short runway but still able to meet passenger number requirements,[38] as well as service from Sydney to Nagoya, stopping in Cairns, and transpacific service between Sydney and Los Angeles. They were equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, unlike most other 747SPs. Both aircraft have been scrapped.[39]
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines In 1981 Saudia received the first of two 747SP. One year later the airline received its second 747SP. On July 1, 1981, the first nonstop service was inaugurated from Jeddah to New York with its 747SP aircraft.[40] This service, along with the Riyadh-New York service introduced later. Saudi Arabian Airlines Royal Flight division continue operating the type.
  • Syrian Air have two aircraft both of which though still part of the fleet, are inactive, they were phased out of service in 2009 but were brought back and overhauled in 2010.[41]
  • Tajik Air operated a single aircraft for a short while.[42]
  • Trek Airways leased from South African Airways.[43]
  • United Airlines acquired the 747SP from Pan Am in 1986, and remained in operation until 1994, where they were used on United flights to London, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.[44]


There were 3 significant commercial around-the-world record-setting flights flown by 747SP, two operated by Pan Am and the other operated by United Airlines with the aircraft being "loaned" to Friendship Foundation, in order to raise money for the foundation. Those flights are:

  • Liberty Bell Express[5]—Flown from New York/JFK May 1-May 3, 1976. 2 stopovers at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi and Tokyo-Haneda Airport. The round-the-world flight took 46 hours and 26 minutes over 23,137 miles.[5]
  • Pan Am Flight 50—to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pan Am. Flown 28–30 October 1977 from San Francisco/SFO, with a time duration of 54 hours, 7 minutes, 12 seconds. 3 stopovers at London-Heathrow Airport, Cape Town International Airport and Auckland Airport. Flight 50 flew over both the North Pole and the South Pole.
  • Friendship One[5]—Flown 29–31 January 1988 from Seattle/SEA, to raise funds for Friendship Foundation. Two stopovers were made, at Athens Airport and Taipei-Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, (formerly the Chiang Kai-shek International Airport). The record lasted less than a month, as it was beaten by a Gulfstream IV piloted in part by Gulfstream Aerospace CEO Al Paulson. The round-the-world flight took 35 hours and 54 minutes over 23,125 miles.[5]

Incidents and accidentsEdit

  • On February 19, 1985, China Airlines Flight 006, a 747SP-09 (aircraft registration N4522V) with 274 passengers and crew onboard on a flight from Chiang Kai-shek Airport to Los Angeles International Airport suffered an inflight failure on Aircraft engine position number|engine number four. While the flight crew attempted to restore power the aircraft rolled to the right and started a steep descent from the cruising altitude of 41,000 feet, accelerating to 4.8 G and 5.1 G on two occasions. The captain managed to stabilize the aircraft at 9,500 feet and the aircraft diverted to San Francisco International Airport which was 550 km (343.8 mi.) away. Two passengers were injured and the aircraft suffered major structural damage.[27]
  • On 5 October 1998 a South African Airways Boeing 747SP-44 (ZS-SPF) operated by LAM Mozambique Airlines suffered engine failure. Shortly after Take-off from Maputo International Airport, Mozambique the no. 3 (Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7FW) suffered an uncontained failure. Flying debris caused damage to the no. 4 engine and the wing. A fire erupted, but couldn’t be extinguished immediately. An emergency landing was carried out. All 66 people on board survived. The aircraft was later scrapped.[31]


Model 747SP
Cockpit crew 3 (2 pilots, flight engineer)
Seating capacity 331 (28 first, 303 economy)
Overall length 184 ft 9 in (56.31 m)
Wingspan 195 ft 8 in (59.64 m)
Wing area 5,500 ft² (511 m²)
Overall height 65 ft 10 in (20.06 m)
Operating empty weight 336,870 lb (152,780 kg)
Maximum take-off weight 670,000 lb (304,000 kg)
Engine models (x 4) Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4W or Rolls-Royce RB211-524C2 turbofan engines
Engine thrust (x 4) 46,500 lbf (206.8 kN)
Maximum speed 0.92 Mach (591 knots, 1,095 km/h)
Cruising speed 0.88 Mach (535 knots, 990 km/h)
Service ceiling 45,100 ft (13.75 km)
Maximum range 6,650 nm (7,650 mi, 12,325 km) with 276 passengers

Sources: Boeing Commercial Airplanes[45] and[46]

See alsoEdit

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Harvnb
  3. Eden, Paul. (Ed). Civil Aircraft Today. 2008: Amber Books, pp. 92-3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Template:Harvnb
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 Eden 2008, pp. 96-7.
  6. Template:Cite journal
  7. Template:Cite book
  8. Template:Cite book
  9. 9.0 9.1 Template:Cite web
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Template:Cite web
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. Template:Airreg, Federal Aviation Administration
  13. Template:Cite web
  14. Template:Airreg, Federal Aviation Administration
  15. Template:Airreg, Federal Aviation Administration
  16. Template:Airreg, Federal Aviation Administration
  17. Template:Harvnb
  18. Argentinas 747SP
  19. 19.0 19.1 Template:Harvnb
  20. Air Gylf Falcon 747SP
  21. Encyclopedia of African airlines - Ben R. Guttery
  22. Air Namibia 747SP
  23. Alliance 747SP
  24. 24.0 24.1 [1][2]
  25. Template:Dead link
  26. Mercury Star News: Ballet's Head-turning Move, Fry's Owner Loans Decorated 747 For S.J. Dancers' Tour
  27. 27.0 27.1 Aviation Safety Network report - 19 February 1985 accident
  28. Iraqi 747SP
  29. Kazakhstan Airlines 747SP
  30. Kinshasa Airways 747SP
  31. 31.0 31.1 Template:Cite web
  32. Trek Airways and Luxair
  33. Mandarin Airlines will make maiden flight to Australia
  34. 1977/78: PanAm Routes | AIRLINE ROUTE
  35. Template:Cite web
  36. 36.0 36.1 Template:Harvnb
  37. Las Vegas Sands VP-BLK (Boeing 747 - MSN 21961)
  38. Template:Cite web
  39. Template:Cite web
  40. Saudi Arabian Airlines - History of the 80's
  41. Syrian Air 747s status at January 2012
  42. Tajik Air 747SP
  43. The Boeing 747SP of Trek Airways
  44. 1992/93: UNITED International Network | AIRLINE ROUTE
  45. Template:Cite web
  46. Template:Cite web

Further reading Edit

External linksEdit

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